For all the talk that Portland and Seattle are two different cities, the fact of the matter is that we are really only separated by three hours on I-5. In the early 1980′s when I was growing up in Portland, that was an uncomfortably close proximity. Why? Because the Green River Killer was only a couple of hours away.
Before you think I am speaking in hyperbole or making things out to be bigger than they were, I remember my parents and their friends speaking in hushed tones about the Green River Killer. There were two confirmed victims and two suspected victims in Portland. I remember getting the “stranger danger” talks many times.
It is impossible to over-state the situation. At the time of his eventual capture (twenty years after the murders began), the Green River Killer was confirmed to have killed over 40 women and was suspected in almost as many more homicides. He has currently confessed to over seventy. In fact, the killer has confessed to more homicides than any other serial killer in history.
When I saw that Dark Horse was going to publish a book about the Green River Killer, I was interested. But, when I read that it was going to be written by the son of the lead investigator, I knew I wanted to read it. Instead of being a book full of supposition and conjecture, this book would offer some true insight in to the case. I read the entire book in one sitting. I hadn’t intended on doing so, I had several important things I had to get done. However, the narrative was so engaging that I just could not put it down!
Green River killer: A True Detective Story is less a mystery, and more of a story about the investigators who cracked the case. The reader is exposed to the terrible toll that the killing spree took on the community as well as the investigators who poured everything they could in to the case. For Tom Jensen in particular, it was a career-long mission. He gave up time with his family, passed on promotions, and even worked on the case after retirement.
A writer from the outside could have focused on all the horrible things that happened in the family because of this. The missed dinners. The Father’s Days that went uncelebrated. The school plays that were missed. Jensen’s son, Jeff, writes this book almost as a letter to his father, letting him know that he understands why it was so important. And that is what makes this book different. It isn’t a gritty noir mystery. It isn’t a police procedural. It is a book about a guy who goes up against the greatest of odds to take down a truly horrendous villain. Isn’t that what the best stories are made of?
The book has an atmosphere about it that is brought about by the frankness of the art and the storytelling. This is not a story about glorifying the killer or the detective. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story delivers on its promise. It allows the reader to get a sense of what it was truly like during one of the longest manhunts in U.S. History. The pacing is brisk, and the information comes at the reader rapidly. But the passage of time is still palpable as characters age and burn out in front of us. Artist Jonathan Case does a stellar job of aging characters as they move in and out of the storyline over twenty-plus years.
This book is highly recommended and is in stores today.
Check out a brief preview here.
For more information about the Green River Killer there is an exhaustive piece here.